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  • Micheal Daniel Micheal Daniel
  • 20 min read

Tips for Writing Common App Essay

The Common Application essay, often regarded as the personal statement, is a crucial component of the college application process. This essay presents an opportunity for you to introduce yourself to admissions committees, showcase your unique qualities, and convey why you’re an ideal fit for their institution. Crafting an exceptional Common App essay is not just about writing well; it’s about telling your story, sharing your values, and leaving a lasting impression. We will look at common app essay tips, we will provide you with valuable tips and insights to help you navigate the Common App essay process successfully. Whether you’re just starting or in the final stages of revision, these tips will help you craft a compelling narrative that sets you apart from the rest.

tips for common app essay

Brainstorming and Topic Selection

This pivotal piece of your college application can be both a challenge and an opportunity to showcase your uniqueness. To help you get started, we’ll explore the crucial step of brainstorming and selecting the perfect topic for your common app essay tips.

Techniques for Generating Essay Ideas

  1. Freewriting: Set aside some quiet time, grab a notebook or open a blank document, and let your thoughts flow freely. Write whatever comes to mind without judgment or self-editing. This can lead you to unexpected and exciting essay topics.
  2. Mind Mapping: Create a visual representation of your thoughts, ideas, and experiences. Start with a central theme, such as “defining moment,” and branch out with related experiences, emotions, or lessons learned. This technique can help you visualize connections between various elements of your life.
  3. Lists and Clustering: Make lists of significant life events, achievements, challenges, or hobbies. Cluster related items and explore how they relate to your personal growth or values. Sometimes, the simple act of listing can spark a brilliant idea.
  4. Reflect on Influences: Think about the people, books, places, or experiences that have profoundly impacted your life. How have they shaped your values, beliefs, or aspirations? Reflecting on your influences can lead to rich essay material.

Identifying Personal Experiences or Stories

  1. Authenticity Matters: Choose experiences or stories that genuinely resonate with you. Admissions officers can spot insincerity, so focus on what genuinely matters to you.
  2. Embrace Vulnerability: Sharing a personal challenge or vulnerability can be a powerful way to connect with readers. It shows maturity and resilience.
  3. Unique Perspective: Remember, it’s not about what you did but how you view the experience. Your unique perspective can make even seemingly ordinary events extraordinary.
  4. Anecdotes and Details: Zoom in on specific moments or details that stand out in your memory. These can serve as powerful anchors for your essay, allowing readers to connect with your narrative on a personal level.

Narrowing Down Topic Choices

  1. Relevance to the Prompt: Ensure that your chosen topic aligns with one of the Common App Essay prompts. Each prompt has a unique focus, so pick the one that best suits your story.
  2. Eliminate Redundancy: If you’re writing multiple college applications, be strategic. Avoid redundancy by choosing topics that provide fresh insights into your character, experiences, or aspirations.
  3. Balance Personal and Academic: While personal experiences are valuable, consider topics that can also highlight your academic interests, if relevant. This balance can show your holistic readiness for college.
  4. Test Your Passion: Ask yourself: “Am I excited to write about this?” If you’re passionate about your chosen topic, it will come through in your writing and engage your readers.

Mastering the Art of the Thesis Statement

Writing a compelling Common App essay is all about making a lasting impression. And at the heart of this impactful essay lies your thesis statement. We’ll delve into the significance of a clear thesis statement, how to create one that perfectly aligns with your essay’s purpose, and why it’s crucial to ensure it fits the chosen prompt.

Importance of a Clear Thesis Statement

  1. Guides the Reader: Your thesis statement is the roadmap that guides your reader through your essay. It sets the tone and direction, ensuring that your narrative remains focused and coherent.
  2. Clarity and Conciseness: A well-crafted thesis statement offers clarity and conciseness. Admissions officers have limited time to review applications, so a clear thesis ensures your message is easily understood.
  3. Central Argument: It presents your central argument or message. This is the core of your essay, the idea that you’ll explore and support throughout your narrative.

How to Create a Thesis Statement That Reflects the Essay’s Purpose

  1. Understand Your Purpose: Before crafting your thesis statement, clarify the purpose of your essay. Are you sharing a personal experience, reflecting on your growth, or showcasing your passion? Your thesis should align with this purpose.
  2. Be Specific: Avoid vague or broad statements. Instead, focus on a specific aspect of your story or message. Specificity adds depth and interest to your thesis.
  3. Express Your Perspective: Your thesis should reflect your unique perspective or insight. It’s not just about the ‘what,’ but the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of your experience.
  4. Preview Your Main Points: Briefly outline the main points or ideas you’ll discuss in your essay. This gives the reader a preview of what to expect.

Ensuring the Thesis Aligns with the Chosen Prompt

  1. Analyze the Prompt: Carefully dissect the Common App Essay prompt you’ve chosen. What is it asking? What key themes or ideas does it contain? Your thesis should directly address these elements.
  2. Customize Your Thesis: Tailor your thesis to fit the prompt. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. Admissions officers want to see that you’ve thoughtfully engaged with the specific prompt you’ve chosen.
  3. Maintain Relevance: As you write your essay, periodically revisit your thesis statement to ensure it remains relevant. It’s your anchor, so it should guide the entire narrative.
  4. Don’t Force It: If you find that your thesis statement isn’t aligning with your chosen prompt as you write, don’t force it. Be flexible and open to adjusting your thesis to better suit your evolving narrative.

Crafting a Strong Thesis Statement

Crafting a strong thesis statement is the cornerstone of any effective essay, including your Common App Essay. In this guide, we’ll explore the vital role of a clear thesis statement, how to create one that aligns with your essay’s purpose, and the importance of ensuring it fits seamlessly with your chosen prompt.

Importance of a Clear Thesis Statement

  1. Guidance for the Reader: Think of your thesis statement as the guiding star for your reader. It offers a clear roadmap of what to expect in your essay, helping them navigate your narrative with ease.
  2. Clarity and Focus: Admissions officers have limited time to review countless applications. A well-crafted thesis statement ensures your essay is concise, focused, and immediately comprehensible.
  3. Central Argument: Your thesis statement encapsulates your central argument or message. It defines the core of your essay, the idea that you’ll explore, elaborate on, and substantiate throughout your narrative.

How to Create a Thesis Statement That Reflects the Essay’s Purpose

  1. Define Your Purpose: Before you begin crafting your thesis statement, be crystal clear about the purpose of your essay. Are you recounting a personal experience, reflecting on your growth, or highlighting your passion? Your thesis should align with this primary purpose.
  2. Specificity Matters: Avoid vague or overly broad statements. Instead, zero in on a specific facet of your story or message. Specificity adds depth and interest to your thesis.
  3. Show Your Perspective: Your thesis should reveal your unique perspective or insight. It’s not just about the ‘what’; it should also touch upon the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of your experience.
  4. Preview Key Points: Provide a glimpse of the main ideas or points you intend to discuss in your essay. This offers your reader a preview of what lies ahead in your narrative.

Ensuring the Thesis Aligns with the Chosen Prompt

  1. Interpret the Prompt: Carefully dissect the Common App Essay prompt you’ve selected. What does it ask? What are the central themes or concepts it contains? Your thesis must directly address these elements.
  2. Customize Your Thesis: Tailor your thesis to fit the specific prompt you’ve chosen. Avoid adopting a generic approach. Admissions officers are looking for evidence that you’ve thoughtfully engaged with the particular prompt you’ve selected.
  3. Sustain Relevance: As you progress with your essay, periodically revisit your thesis statement to ensure it remains relevant to your evolving narrative. It should act as an anchor, guiding the entire structure of your essay.
  4. Don’t Force It: If, during the writing process, you find that your thesis statement doesn’t align well with your chosen prompt, don’t attempt to force-fit it. Be open to adjusting your thesis to better harmonize with your developing narrative.

Read on Common App Essay Word Limit

Structuring the Essay

Your Common App Essay is your chance to shine, and crafting a well-structured essay is key to making a lasting impression on admissions officers. In this guide, we’ll delve into the art of structuring your essay effectively, covering the essential elements of the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.


  1. Hooking the Reader’s Attention: The opening sentence or sentences should be attention-grabbing. Consider using a compelling anecdote, a thought-provoking question, a surprising fact, or a vivid description to draw your reader into your narrative. The goal is to make them want to read more.
  2. Presenting the Thesis Statement: Following your hook, introduce your thesis statement clearly and concisely. This sets the tone for your essay and informs the reader about the central argument or message you’ll be exploring.

Body Paragraphs

  1. Developing a Coherent and Logical Flow of Ideas: Each body paragraph should focus on a single idea or aspect of your narrative. Ensure that your ideas flow logically from one paragraph to the next. Use transitional phrases to guide the reader through your essay smoothly.
  2. Providing Evidence and Examples to Support the Thesis: Every claim or argument in your essay should be supported by evidence or examples. These could be personal anecdotes, experiences, observations, or research findings. Be sure to explain how each piece of evidence connects to your thesis.


  1. Summarizing Key Points: In the concluding paragraphs, provide a concise summary of the main points you’ve discussed in your essay. Restate your thesis in a slightly different way to remind the reader of your central message.
  2. Reflecting on the Essay’s Significance: Go beyond summarizing and reflect on the broader implications of your narrative. How has the experience or message you’ve shared shaped you as a person? What lessons have you learned, and how do they relate to your future goals?
  3. Leaving a Lasting Impression: End your essay with a powerful and memorable closing statement. This could be a thought-provoking quote, a call to action, or a reflection on the journey you’ve described. The goal is to leave the reader with something to ponder after reading your essay.

Writing Style and Tone

Your Common App Essay is your canvas to express your unique personality and experiences. To make it shine, you must carefully consider your writing style and tone. In this guide, we’ll explore the crucial elements of writing with a personal and authentic voice, avoiding clichés and overly formal language, and striking the right balance between seriousness and humor when appropriate.

Maintaining a Personal and Authentic Voice

  1. Be Yourself: Your Common App Essay is a chance to showcase your true self. Write in a way that feels natural to you. Avoid trying to imitate someone else’s style or using vocabulary that doesn’t feel like your own.
  2. Share Personal Insights: Dive deep into your personal experiences, emotions, and thoughts. Use your essay as an opportunity to reflect on your life journey, growth, and values. Authenticity is key to connecting with your readers.
  3. Avoid Overediting: While editing is important, be cautious about overediting to the point where your essay loses your unique voice. Your essay should reflect who you are, not just what you think admissions officers want to hear.

Avoiding Clichés and Overly Formal Language

  1. Steer Clear of Clichés: Admissions officers read numerous essays, so they can spot clichés from a mile away. Avoid using tired expressions or ideas that lack originality. Instead, opt for fresh and unique perspectives.
  2. Keep Language Accessible: While you want to showcase your writing skills, don’t overcomplicate your language. Write in a way that is clear and easy for readers to understand. Remember, your goal is to communicate effectively.
  3. Vary Your Vocabulary: Don’t rely on the same words and phrases repeatedly. Expand your vocabulary to express your ideas more vividly and precisely. Thesauruses can be valuable tools, but use them judiciously to avoid forced or unnatural language.

Balancing Seriousness and Humor (if Appropriate)

  1. Know Your Audience: Consider the expectations of the admissions officers. While humor can be a powerful tool, it must be used judiciously. Ensure that your humor is tasteful and doesn’t detract from the overall seriousness of your essay.
  2. Use Humor Thoughtfully: If you choose to incorporate humor, make sure it’s relevant and enhances your narrative. It can be an effective way to connect with readers and convey your personality, but it should never come across as forced or insincere.
  3. Maintain Sensitivity: Be mindful of sensitive topics. What might be humorous to one person could be offensive to another. Always prioritize respect and sensitivity in your writing.

Editing and Proofreading

Your Common App Essay is a reflection of your best self, and it deserves the utmost attention to detail. In this guide, we’ll explore the significance of multiple drafts, the art of revising for clarity and conciseness, and the essential task of checking for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.

The Importance of Multiple Drafts

  1. Refining Your Ideas: Multiple drafts allow you to refine and clarify your ideas. What may seem brilliant in the first draft can often be improved upon in subsequent iterations.
  2. Detecting Weaknesses: Each draft provides an opportunity to identify weaknesses in your essay. You can spot areas where your argument or narrative may be unclear, unfocused, or lacking depth.
  3. Gaining Perspective: Taking breaks between drafts helps you approach your essay with fresh eyes. You’ll be better able to see areas that need improvement and make more objective revisions.

Revising for Clarity and Conciseness

  1. Eliminate Redundancy: Review your essay to identify repetitive ideas or phrases. Streamline your writing by removing unnecessary repetition.
  2. Clarify Your Message: Ensure that your narrative is clear and easy to follow. If a sentence or paragraph doesn’t contribute to your message, consider revising or removing it.
  3. Trim Excess Words: Strive for conciseness. Long-winded sentences can dilute your message. Trim unnecessary words to make your writing more impactful.

Checking for Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation Errors

  1. Grammar and Syntax: Review your essay for grammatical errors, such as subject-verb agreement, tense consistency, and sentence structure. Ensure that your sentences are grammatically correct.
  2. Spelling: Use spell-check tools to catch common spelling mistakes, but don’t rely solely on them. Carefully proofread your essay to catch words that are spelled correctly but used incorrectly (e.g., “there” vs. “their”).
  3. Punctuation: Pay close attention to punctuation. Check for proper comma usage, apostrophes in possessive forms, and correct end punctuation (periods, question marks, exclamation points).
  4. Consistency: Ensure consistency in formatting, such as using the same tense throughout your essay and maintaining a consistent style for numbers, dates, and capitalization.

Seeking Feedback

The journey of crafting a compelling Common App Essay doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor. In fact, seeking and utilizing feedback can be the secret weapon that takes your essay from good to exceptional. In this guide, we’ll explore the importance of peer review, the value of consulting teachers, counselors, or writing tutors, and how to effectively incorporate constructive criticism.

The Role of Peer Review

  1. Fresh Perspective: Peer review offers a fresh pair of eyes on your essay. Peers can often spot issues or strengths that you might have missed.
  2. Diverse Insights: Different perspectives from peers can provide valuable insights. They may come from diverse backgrounds and have varying experiences that enrich your essay.
  3. Honest Assessment: Peers can provide honest feedback because they don’t have a vested interest in your essay’s outcome. Their candor can help you identify areas for improvement.

Consulting Teachers, Counselors, or Writing Tutors

  1. Expert Guidance: Teachers, counselors, and writing tutors bring expertise to the table. They can evaluate your essay in the context of college admissions and provide guidance on what admissions committees are looking for.
  2. Knowledge of Your Goals: They understand your academic and personal goals and can help align your essay with your college aspirations.
  3. Mentorship: Building a mentorship relationship with a trusted teacher or counselor can provide ongoing support and advice throughout your application process.

Incorporating Constructive Criticism

  1. Listen with an Open Mind: When receiving feedback, approach it with an open and receptive mindset. Remember that the goal is to improve your essay, not to defend your current version.
  2. Identify Patterns: If multiple reviewers point out the same issue or area for improvement, it’s a strong indicator that it needs attention. Look for patterns in the feedback.
  3. Ask Questions: If you’re unsure about a reviewer’s comment, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Seek to understand their perspective fully.
  4. Revise Thoughtfully: When making revisions based on feedback, consider how each change strengthens your essay. Be purposeful in your revisions.
  5. Maintain Your Voice: While incorporating feedback is important, ensure that your essay still maintains your unique voice and perspective. It should ultimately reflect who you are.
  6. Proofread After Revisions: After making changes based on feedback, thoroughly proofread your essay to catch any unintended errors introduced during the revision process.

Showcasing Personal Growth and Reflection

Your Common App Essay isn’t just about recounting experiences; it’s an opportunity to reveal your personal growth and depth of understanding. In this guide, we’ll explore how to demonstrate self-awareness and maturity, reflect on the lessons learned from your experiences, and connect your personal growth to your future goals.

Demonstrating Self-awareness and Maturity

  1. Honest Self-Reflection: Start by honestly reflecting on your experiences and how they’ve shaped you. Admissions officers value self-awareness, so don’t shy away from acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Maturity in Perspective: Show how you’ve matured through your experiences. Discuss how your outlook or attitudes have evolved over time, emphasizing a growing sense of responsibility and awareness of the world around you.
  3. Admitting Mistakes: Don’t be afraid to admit mistakes or setbacks. Discussing how you’ve learned from these moments can demonstrate personal growth and resilience.

Reflecting on Lessons Learned from Experiences

  1. Deep Dive into Experiences: Explore the depth of your experiences. Don’t just recount events; delve into the emotions, challenges, and insights gained. What specific moments or interactions had a significant impact on you?
  2. Identify Core Values: Reflect on the values that guide your life. How have your experiences reinforced or reshaped these values? Highlight instances where your actions aligned with your core values.
  3. Narrative of Transformation: Narrate your journey of transformation. Explain how you initially approached a situation or challenge, the obstacles you faced, and the steps you took to overcome them. What did you learn about yourself and the world around you?

Connecting Personal Growth to Future Goals

  1. Future Aspirations: Discuss your future goals and aspirations. How do they align with your experiences and the personal growth you’ve undergone? Show admissions officers that your past experiences have set you on a path toward meaningful goals.
  2. Specific College Connection: If applicable, connect your personal growth to the specific college or program you’re applying to. Explain how the college’s resources, opportunities, or values resonate with your personal journey and future ambitions.
  3. Why You Belong: Convey to the admissions committee why you belong at their institution. Emphasize how your unique experiences and personal growth will enrich the college community and contribute to its culture.
  4. Forward-Looking Optimism: Maintain a forward-looking, optimistic tone. Your essay should leave admissions officers with the impression that you are not only reflective but also eager to continue your growth journey in college.

Honesty and Authenticity

When crafting your Common App essay, honesty and authenticity are paramount. Admissions officers are not only looking for well-written essays but also for genuine insights into your character and experiences. Here’s how to ensure your essay reflects these qualities:

Avoiding Embellishment or Exaggeration

  • Be Truthful: Always present the truth in your essay. Avoid exaggerating your accomplishments, experiences, or hardships. Exaggeration can undermine your credibility and authenticity.
  • Embrace Imperfections: Don’t feel compelled to present yourself as flawless. Admissions officers appreciate authenticity, which includes acknowledging challenges and setbacks you’ve faced.
  • Use Real Examples: When discussing achievements or experiences, provide concrete and accurate details. Fabricating or embellishing stories can damage your credibility.

Presenting a Genuine and Sincere Narrative

  • Reflect on Personal Growth: Your essay should reflect genuine self-awareness and personal growth. Admissions officers value applicants who can honestly reflect on how experiences have shaped them.
  • Avoid Copying Others: Your essay should be a unique reflection of your own experiences and perspective. Avoid copying or using someone else’s story, as it won’t reflect your authenticity.
  • Show Vulnerability: It’s okay to share moments of vulnerability or uncertainty. Authenticity often shines through when you reveal your true feelings and reactions.

Final Tips for Success

As you approach the final stages of crafting your Common App essay, consider these essential tips to ensure your essay is polished and ready for submission:

 Starting Early and Managing Time Effectively

  • Plan Ahead: Begin working on your essay well in advance of application deadlines. Starting early allows you ample time for brainstorming, drafting, revising, and editing.
  • Set Milestones: Break down the essay-writing process into manageable milestones with deadlines. This helps you stay organized and on track.
  • Revision Time: Don’t underestimate the importance of revisions. Allocate sufficient time for multiple drafts and refinements to make your essay the best it can be.

Tailoring the Essay for Each College (if Necessary)

  • Individualized Essays: Some colleges may have specific supplemental essay questions. Tailor your Common App essay to align with these additional requirements when applying to multiple institutions.
  • Research Each College: Understand the values, mission, and culture of the colleges you’re applying to. Mentioning specific aspects of each college that resonate with you demonstrates genuine interest.
  • Stay True to Yourself: While tailoring, ensure your essay remains authentic and true to your experiences and values. Don’t sacrifice your unique voice for the sake of customization.

 Proofreading One Last Time Before Submission

  • Thorough Proofreading: Carefully proofread your essay for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and clarity. Small errors can detract from the impact of your essay.
  • Fresh Perspective: If possible, have someone else, such as a teacher or mentor, review your essay. A fresh set of eyes can catch mistakes and provide valuable feedback.
  • Read Aloud: Reading your essay aloud can help you identify awkward phrasing or areas that need improvement. It also helps ensure your essay flows smoothly.

Read more on Common App Essay Writing


The journey of writing your Common App essay is one filled with introspection, self-discovery, and the art of storytelling. As you embark on this path, remember that your unique experiences and perspectives are your greatest assets. By following the tips outlined in this guide, you’ve equipped yourself with the tools to write an essay that truly reflects your authentic self. Approach this task with confidence, stay true to your voice, and let your narrative shine. Your Common App essay is not just a stepping stone to college; it’s a testament to your individuality and a beacon of your potential. Embrace the process, tell your story, and with sincerity, watch your application come to life.

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